Director Bill Rase hints at some ‘fairly nice announcements’ by mid-year
The Port of Lake Charles will be starting off the coming year ranked by Fortune as the No. 7 port in the nation for growth.
But director Bill Rase sees that number climbing even higher.
"As the year unfolds, things change and rotate and we think we’re going to have a couple of fairly nice announcements by mid-year that would bring a little more economic development to the area," Rase said. "These will not be LNG facilities, which means we will have a little bit of diversification of our energy world."
Rase said one of the projects is about a $1.9 billion operation and the other is in the ballpark of $4.56 billion.
"Overall they’ll probably provide 300-400 jobs between the two of them," he said. "It will be a nice addition to the area."
Rase said that by 2022, the port itself is looking at about $184 million worth of new projects that would "improve or add to the facilities we already have." These projects include replacing two new docks that were built in the 1920s, building additional rail storage and switching abilities, redoing the ship loader and unloader, and upgrades to the sewer system and roadways.
"These projects will be strung out as we go but I think they will be really beneficial to keeping the port in a position to handle the types of cargo that the moderate port handles today," Rase said. "It’s changed considerably from 25 years ago to where we are today."
Rase said the port is landlord to more than 60 companies, and is engaged in oil and gas enterprises, chemicals, gaming and other businesses.
Major tenants of the port include L’Auberge Casino Resort and Gold Nugget Lake Charles. The port also has a wide portfolio of leases, option agreements and customer relationships with Sasol, Alcoa, Cameron LNG, Magnolia LNG, Tellurian LNG, G2X Methanol, Lake Charles Methanol and Southern Ionics. Other major customers and tenants are ADM Rice, Arrow Terminals, Citgo, Crowley Marine, Dynamic Industries, Farmers Rice Mill, Federal Marine Terminals, Firestone, G2X Energy, G2Ocean, Geo Specialty Chemicals, Halliburton, IFG Port Holdings, Flanagan Shipping, Lake Charles Stevedores, Louisiana Pigment, Supreme/Louisiana Rice Mill, Energy Transfer, Phillips 66, Port Aggregates, Reid and Co., Sam’s Club, CBI Modular Solutions, Sonic Stevedores, Talen’s Marine, Lake Charles LNG, Union Pacific Railroad, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Port Rail.
"The revenues produced by the port in 2002 were about $15 million," Rase said. "Last year, we were $41 million. We’ve been able to really take our financial position as well as our cargo mix and … balance our books, if you will."
He said the net income for 2018 is expected to exceed budget by $2.4 million.
The port also received a bond rating of "A3" from Moody’s this year and a S&P affirmed bond rating of A-.
"That’s very important when you’re talking to companies that are going to invest billions of dollars," he said. "We show that we have financial stability. The port has stabilized itself and diversified itself so that we are not locked into one thing to sustain the port."
Rase said on the Lake Charles Harbor and Terminal side, which takes care of the ship channel, the dredging issue is always going to be forefront.
"We continue to work with the Army Corps of Engineers and all of our local delegations, both locally and in Washington, to make sure that our channel is not overlooked," Rase said. "So far it’s not; we’re getting our fair share of the federal dollars and all of our delegates are fighting for us."
Rase said the channel is "the big driver of most projects that are coming to town."
He said the port and the Lake Charles Harbor and Terminal District are focused on getting a steady funding for the channel.
"Everything is kind of hodge-podge right now," he said. "You try to get it out of this budget and try to get it out of that budget, and you’ve got to go to Washington, you’ve got to fight here, you’ve got to fight there. Even the state has trouble funding their channel. We’re trying to get some equal footing with that and all of our interest is on getting steady funding and we’re all for anything that gets that particular piece of the puzzle for us."
Since 2016, the port has created 3,338 acres of marsh using dredged material.
"Most people don’t realize the port does this, but we do," he said.
One of the more visible projects is 150 acres of wetlands created near the Interstate 210 bridge. He said the port partnered with Axiall in 2015 to provide 302,820 cubic yards of dredged material to assist in the creation of acreage visible from the bridge.
In 2017, the port implemented a marsh creation program to provide dredge material capacity options other than federal Army Corps of Engineers placement areas. Four sites are targeted now along the ship channel; one site is permitted and another permit is pending.
Rase said the sites provide 2 million cubic yards of capacity to create 434 acres of wetlands.
"We’re going in and taking four sites that have state-water bottoms but they only have a small amount of water on them where the actual land is eroding away," he said. "We budgeted about $4 million to go out and try to create a marsh area on each of those sites."
He said the marsh creation will give cubic yards of dredging for industry to put into.
Rase said the port recently donated $1.5 million toward Mayor Nic Hunter’s proposed Port Wonder project on the lakefront, a $20 million-plus development that will include an educational and entertainment facility designed to attract visitors to Lake Charles. The facility will house the Children’s Museum of Lake Charles and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ Science Center and Educational Complex.
The port also secured construction of the Cove Lane interchange, helped fund extended operating hours at the Salt Water Barrier, is a partner in creating a firearms training range for law enforcement personnel, and awards scholarship in STEM education to McNeese State University and Sowela Technical Community College.
The port also sent 1,100 utility trucks to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
"We’re tied pretty deep into the community," Rase said.